The used gun market is a great place to find a solid deal. But, shooters better know how to evaluate a firearm, to ensure they aren’t spending their cold, hard cash on a lemon. With that in mind, master gunsmith Patrick Sweeney goes over how to inspect a used rifle.
Open the action. With a light or reflector — and with the action open and bolt removed if appropriate — look down the bore. Clean, shiny and clear of obstructions, right? If not, let the bargaining begin!
While many rifles will shoot accurately with a slightly pitted bore, some won't – and all will require more frequent cleaning. Work the action and see if there are any binding spots or if the action is rough. Ask if you can dry fire it to check the safety.
Some people do not like to have any gun in their possession dry-fired; others don't care. If you cannot, you may have to pass on the deal. Or, you can assure the owner that you will restrain the cocking piece to keep the striker from falling.
Close the action and dry-fire it. How much is the trigger pull? Close the action, push the safety to ON, and pull the trigger. It should stay cocked. Let go of the trigger and push the safety OFF. It should stay cocked. Now, dry-fire it. Is the trigger pull different than it was before? If the pull is now lighter, the safety is not fully engaging the cocking piece, and you'll have to have someone work on it to make it safe. If the rifle fires at any time while manipulating the safety (even without your having touched the trigger) it is unsafe until a gunsmith repairs it.
While you were checking the safety, just what was the trigger pull? A very light trigger pull is not always bad, but may need adjustment. As an example, if you are handling a Remington 700 or Winchester 70, and the trigger pull is one pound, someone may have adjusted the trigger mechanism. If you are handling a Winchester '94 and the trigger pull is a pound, someone has been stoning the hammer or sear. On the first two, you or your gunsmith can adjust the weight back to normal ranges. On the '94 you may have to buy a new hammer or sear — or both — to get the pull back into the normal range.
Inspect the action and barrel channel. Is the gap between the barrel and the channel uniform? Or does the forearm bend right or left? Changes in humidity can warp a forearm and, if the wood touches the barrel, alter accuracy. The owner may be selling it because the accuracy has “gone south,” and not know that some simple bedding work can cure it.
Look at the action where it meets the stock. Is the wood/metal edge clean and uniform? Or do you see traces of epoxy bedding compound? Epoxy could mean a bedding job,and it could mean a repair of a cracked stock. Closely inspect the wrist of the stock, right behind the tang. Look for cracks and repairs.
Turn the rifle over and look at the action screws. Are the slots clean, or are they chewed up? Mangled slots indicates a rifle that has been taken apart many times – and at least a few of those times with a poorly-fitting screwdriver.
Remove the bolt if you can. If not, use a reflector or light to illuminate the bore. Is the bore clean and bright? Look at the bore near the muzzle. Do you see jacket fouling or lead deposits? Many an “inaccurate” rifle can be made accurate again simply by cleaning the jacket fouling out of the bore. While looking down the bore, hold the barrel so a vertical or horizontal bar in a window reflects down the bore. If the reflection of the bar has a ‘break’ in it, the barrel is bent. Sight down the outside of the barrel and see if you can spot it. A slightly bent barrel can still be accurate, but will walk its shots when it heats up. A severely bent barrel must be replaced.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Modern Gun Values, 18th Edition.